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 XxX

Arthur walked us back to Gaius with a promise to check on me later. 

My heart fluttered as he said goodbye, kissing my hand with a loving smile. All I could do was stand there, watching him look back over his shoulder every few steps as he walked back to the throne room. The smile never one left his face.

I sighed and walked back into the physician's room, feeling like I was walking on air.

The slam of the door brought harsh reality back like cold water.

Merlin looked up from his place at the table, papers littered across the tabletop, and smiled. The smile quickly disappeared as he saw my face.

I walked over, silently, and took the seat across from him. My hands folded together on the table and I kept my eyes on them, my teeth biting down on my lip—trying to make me focus on the pain instead of reality.

Merlin sighed and stood up to get another cup of tea.

I was thankful that no one else seemed to be home at the time, I don't know if I could have held back the tears with Luna and Harry here.

Merlin placed the tea in front of me, the fragrance of the strong herbs molesting my nose, before he took his seat.

Another sigh, 'You're starting to fall for him too.' More of a statement then a question. I just chewed on my lower lip more aggressively as thoughts darted around in my head.

Was I falling for him? Had I already falled too much for him? What would happen when I left? When he was crowned King? What would happen when the truth was out?

'I knew he was falling for you but I figured...well...I figured you didn't really feel the same way and he would just get over it when you had to leave...Morgana was here after all and I thought...' Merlin dropped his head into his hands and groaned, 'What have I done.'

I continued with my silence, letting him talk through his thoughts.

Merlin looked up to me, his eyes red from the tears that he held back, 'I'm so sorry, Hermione.'

I closed my eyes as a few tears escaped. 

'What am I going to do, Merlin?' I begged, looking up to him with my own red eyes.

Merlin sighed and dropped his head once more.

I took a shaky breath and took a sip of my tea, 'You remember me telling you about R-Ron?'

Merlin looked up to me with confusion in his tear clad eyes.

I closed my eyes, trying to push on with what little courage I had left, 'He cheated on me with a girl from my school.' I gave a bitter laugh, 'I guess he had been with her for about the same time he had been with me.' I ran my finger around the rim of the lopsided clay cup. I looked up to Merlin, who gave me a nod to continue—of course he knew all this already, but he wasn't going to cut me off.

I took another sip of the rich liquid, about to say something I hadn't ever told anyone-not even myself, 'I had always figured Ron would find someone better then me. I had brains, but no beauty. Let me finish.' I whispered as Merlin started to open his mouth. He quickly closed it and gestured with his hand for me to continue.

I took another breath, 'I have never been the pretty one. I've always been the brightest witch, but I've never been the prettiest. I accepted it, I had to accept it af—after Ron...left me.' The tears burned my eyes now as they fell, my will to keep them back spent.

The next breath I took shook my entire body, 'I had accepted it but then...I came here.' I looked up to him with a small smile, which he returned.

My eyes fluttered to the window, needing something unimportant to focus on as I talked, 'I...I felt...beautiful. You wanted to use me as a distraction, not just my brains to set a trap. You wanted me as me. A women, not a intellectual.' I looked back down to my tea, my fingers still circling the rim. 

A small smile tugged at my lips, the safety that I usually felt with Merlin came back at once. I looked up to him, perfectly at ease. I relaxed further as I saw that he felt it too. 

'I'm just...so...so....confused. I've always been known for my brains, not my looks...so I felt sort of...left out...when you and Harry expected me to be the distraction but...I felt...well, I still feel...flattered. It's really weird.' I sighed and took another sip of the tea. Merlin followed suite, 'I feel like I'll go crazy with all the emotions running back and forth from my head to my heart..if I haven't already gone insane, that is.'

I let my eyes wander to the window as I sorted through my thoughts, 'I didn't expect to fall for him...or anything really.' I smiled as a beautiful, free raven flew across the window. What I wouldn't give to be that free. No responsibilities, just the heavens to explore.

'If anything I figured I'd fall for someone like you.' I gestured my hand towards Merlin, who smiled into his tea, 'I mean, you understand magic. You understand me...I feel safe with you...but I fell for Arthur. The One and Future King. The one man that hates magic more then anything else.' I whispered the words, thinking of what they really meant.

Merlin reached his hand across the table, laying the palm up. I smiled and settled my hand on top of his.

I looked up to his eyes, begging for an answer once more, 'What am I going to do, Merlin?'

He sighed and looked down to our hands, his thumb gently caressing my hand, 'I...I think you should tell him.'

My mouth fell open and I jerked back in my seat a bit, but Merlin didn't let go of my hand.

'Let me finish.' He smiled, his ocean-eyes playful, 'Tell him everything except that you are a wizard.'

I relaxed in my seat a bit, ready to listen to him.

Merlin sighed, his finger gently moving back and forth over my thumb, never once meeting my eyes, 'Tell him it was my idea...for you to be with him. Tell him that I saw how he was interested by you and I pushed you to go with him, to keep his mind at easy over this whole...whole...situation.' 

Finally he looked up to my eyes, 'Then tell him the truth...' His smile reached his eyes, '...that you fell for him.'

He gave my hand a slight shake in emphases and smiled at me. I returned it but tears still fell.

'Okay?' Merlin asked, bringing his other hand up to our entwined ones.

All I could do was nod.

XxX

Arthur worked for the rest of the morning, never once stopping for a break. The dark circles grew under his eyes as his stress built. 

His thoughts had been trying to focus on the task at hand, but memories of Hermione kept breaking towards the surface. When that happened, Arthur would just shake his head, then try and focus even harder. But, eventually, he would end up in the same cycle again.

Finally, after six hours of being trapped in the throne room with elders and their useless suggestions, Arthur fell back into his throne—exhausted. They had been here for so long and yet not one solution they had come up with would work.

It was mostly frustrating because they didn't know who, or what, was causing the disappearances.

His head rested in his dark-leather gloved hand, the silver circlet catching the sun light as it shone noon.

'Let us take a break and come back here at 3 o'clock.' Arthur said, his eyes closed in an attempt to catch up on sleep.

Everyone in the room, the royal court and servants alike, filled from the room without another word.

Arthur leaned back in his chair, his eyes closed and his thoughts turning to Hermione.

A small smile lit up his tired face as he dreamed of the lady.

XxX

'Merlin, do you know where Arthur is?' I asked once we finished with the papers. It had taken us a better part of the morning to go through them all but we finished around eleven...or was it noon? I never was good at reading the sun for times.

Well, time aside, we still hadn't found anything different from what the court had found.

Merlin smiled, 'Probably in the throne room, do you want me to walk you over there?'

I smiled but shook my head, 'No, its alright.' I straightened out my soft blue dress and picked up the princes cloak, holding it up so Merlin could see it, 'I have something to return to him.'

Merlin chuckled a bit and shook his head, 'Alright, well be careful—we don't need the brains and the beauty of our operation disappearing as well.' He looked up to me with honest eyes.

I smiled, thankful for Merlin's comment, and walked out the door without another word.

I wandered around the castle, half annoyed because I couldn't find where I wanted to be and half amazed at the beauty of the old stonework.

Finally, I found the door that I needed. I was just about to knock on the large oak door when it flew open and people flooded out. 

I stepped back, my head bowed slightly. 

They walked by me without caring and I was able to sneak inside.

The door closed with a loud sound and I cringed slightly. Turning around, my breath caught in my throat.

There was Arthur, smiling as his eyes remained closed in thought.

I tilted my head, chewing on my lower lip, as I pondered what he was thinking.

I don't know how long I stood there, just staring at him, before I stepped towards him, 'A-Arthur?' I whispered, not wanting to startle him.

Arthur sighed and turned his head as if he were dreaming.

My brows knit together as I continued forward, my hand hesitating before it touched his shoulder, 'Arthur? It's me, Hermione.'

He gave another sigh and leaned towards my touch, his flushed cheek pressing onto the top of my hand.

My breath hitched, 'Arthur?' 

His eyes fluttered a bit, sliding just slightly open.

I smiled, pulling my hand free so that I could smooth back his bangs, 'Arthur, you need to get up.' My hand wiped away the worry lines that had settled into his forehead.

I pursed my lips a bit, the smile staying in my eyes, as his eyes opened more and looked into mine.

'Morning, Sleeping Beauty.' I said, taking my hand back. Arthur was quick though, and took hold of my hand in his before I let it drop at my side.

My eyes wandered down at our hands, watching as he carefully entwined his gloved fingers with my small ones.

'I was thinking about you.' His horse voice said, his fingers gently rubbing the side of my hand.

My heart skipped a beat and my eyes darted up to his. He wasn't looking at me, though, he was looking at our hands.

I gave a quick nod, letting my eyes linger on him a bit longer. I didn't take my hand back, figuring he needed the comfort right now. Given, even if that wasn't the reason I still wouldn't have taken my hand back.

He looked so...so...tired. Like he hadn't slept in years. Circles were starting under his eyes and his hair looked like it had been pulled at a few times this morning. His cloths looked as if he had slept in them.

'You look tired.' I said, letting my thumb rub gentle circles on his exposed wrist.

All he did was nod. Probably too tired to say anything more this morning.

I sighed and looked down to my arm, where the cloak lay.

'Oh, I wanted to return this.' I said, holding out the blue fabric. Arthur looked up as if it were a foreign object, 'It's your cloak you let me borrow it this morning.' I said, trying to remind him.

Then recognition dawned in Arthur's eyes, but he still didn't take the cloak from my hand.

'You keep it, it looks better on you.' Arthur said, pushing the large fabric back towards me, 'And you know its a cape, right? Not a cloak. Cloaks are for...magicians and wizards and such.' Arthur said offhandedly as he rubbed his eyes with his free hand.

I bit my tongue, stopping myself before I really told him everything.  

Closing my eyes, I took a shaky breath, 'A-A-Arthur...I—I need t-to tell you—you something.' My eyes opened and I locked my eyes on a spot in the wooden floor.

'Yes?' Arthur said, his other hand coming up to tilt my face towards him, 'You can tell me anything, my little mouse.' He smiled at his pet name for me.

My breath caught again as I stared into his honest eyes.

'I...I...' Staring into his eyes I got lost, 'I...think I'm falling for you.' It came out of my mouth without my permission. My eyes never once left his face, I wanted to remember this moment.

My heart beat faster as the seconds flew by, feeling like minutes.

His eyes just stayed on mine, studying me. As if he were looking to see if I was telling the truth.

I gave a curt nod and then let my eyes wander to the window, my pride now bruised.

'Gwaherddir Cariad.' He finally whispered. Arthur turned my hand over and his fingers started to create patterns along my palm. 

My eyes shot back to Arthur's, my eye brows knit together as it was my turn to study him.

Arthur wasn't looking at me though, he was looking out the window as well.

It was almost as if wherever I looked, Arthur had to look as well—to figure out what had caught my attention.

'What does that mean?' I asked, my eyes staying on his face—looking for any hint of emotion on his face.

'It was something my Mum told me a long time ago. Its from her home country.' Arthur said, standing up and now walking towards the window.

I crossed my arms and walked up next to him, waiting, slightly impatiently, for him to answer my question.

His fingers gently ran across the glass of one of the window's squares, 'Gwaherddir Cariad. Its Welsh. It means....it means Forbidden Love.'

I nodded, looking out the window once more, thinking about what he had just told me.

And then I understood the importance of what he just told me.

My eyes widened as I looked back to the Once and Future King.

Had he just...did he just...what did he...really?

He continued to stare out the window but I knew he was keeping a partial eye on me, a small smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.

'My Mum was the only one that loved me, the only one I ever loved.' Arthur said, his voice breaking a bit. His eyes closed quickly, holding back his emotion, 'That is...until now. I just...I just can't stop...thinking...about you Hermione...' He glanced quickly at me, waiting for my reaction.

'It seems like...whenever I love someone,' I started, knowing Arthur needed to hear this, 'They leave me. First my parents with the war and then...then everyone moving on in their lives...getting married. See, I was dat...well, I was being courted by this guy back in my hometown. And he...well, he decided that he wanted someone else.' I said, finally coming to terms with it myself, 'It really broke my heart.'

I looked up to see Arthur staring at me, his head tilted, as he waited for me to continue.

I took a steadying breath and pressed on, 'I swore I'd never love anyone else, that I would be content with my books and my such...but then...' I looked up to him with a small smile, '...then you came along. Arrogance and all.' I looked up at him, playfully.

He smiled back, chuckling slightly.

'Merlin was the one that pushed for me to keep company with you, he thought it would help relax you with all the...stress you've been having lately. I didn't want to, at first, but then...I just don't know what happened.' I turned the cuff around my wrist subconsciously, waiting for him to say something. Anything.

When I did dare to look into his eyes I was surprised, he nodded as if he understood perfectly.

'Arthur,' I said, ready to try to explain the harder part—hoping he would take it just as well, 'There are things I won't ever be able to tell you.'

He looked back up to me, confusion in his eyes but understanding in his smile. It was such a stark contrast that I was even unsure of what it meant.

Looking back out the window gave me enough confidence to continue, 'Your the next king, and I'm leaving in...a while.' I closed my eyes, regretting my little lie. I wasn't really sure when I would be going home.

Arthur nodded, following my eyes outside the window once more.

'Can I...can I ask what you are thinking?' I whispered, turning to look at Arthur.

He sighed, turning his eyes to me, 'That I just want to enjoy today, and tomorrow, without thinking of the future.' Arthur stated, looking at me with honest eyes, 'Can I do that? Can we do that?' 

All I could do was nod. Arthur grew quiet once more and looked back out the window, I followed suite—content with just being in his presents for this moment in time.

XxX

AN: I'm starting to think only three of you guys like this story from the lack of reviews! I do have a question for you readers though: Which do you prefer Hermione-Merlin ships or Hermione-Arthur?

XxX

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